China eyes supremacy yet again at Games

HONG KONG: China are expected to dominate the medals table at the East Asian Games, bringing a powerful squad to Hong Kong including star hurdler Liu Xiang, “diving queen” Guo Jingjing and badminton idol Lin Dan.As in the previous four editions of the East Asian Games, South Korea and Japan will slug it out for second behind the Chinese as the teams look for promising performances ahead of next year’s Asian Games.

The other teams taking part in the Hong Kong event, which features 22 sports, are the hosts themselves, Guam, Macau, Mongolia, North Korea and Taiwan, making a total of nine.

Aquatics — swimming and diving — is one of the biggest draws at what authorities are billing as the largest international multi-sports event ever to take place in the southern Chinese city.

World records could tumble in the pool, where competitors will be eager to establish new marks before the worldwide ban on performance-enhancing, non-textile swimsuits takes effect in January.

Ryosuke Irie, who took silver in the 200-metre backstroke at this year’s world championships in Rome, spearheads Japan’s charge in the pool, but said setting a world record would be difficult.

“It may be a little tough to set a world record but I will think about my personal records,” said 19-year-old Irie. “I will race aggressively from the first half.”

Japan’s head swimming coach Hirotoshi Mankyu confirmed most of his charges would be wearing the high-tech suits. “We will aim to top our gold medal haul of eight (in the pool) from the last edition,” he said.

China’s Olympic gold medallist Liu Zige, in the women’s 200-metre butterfly, is another one to watch for a possible new world record.

Records are likely to fall in weightlifting, where the Chinese women are particularly dominant, but it is on the athletics track where there will be most interest, especially with Liu Xiang continuing his comeback from injury.

China’s 110-metre hurdles king — one of the country’s biggest sports stars — crashed out of last year’s Olympics on home soil with an Achilles tendon injury that means he is still not back to his brilliant best.

Nevertheless, it would be a major surprise if the former world record holder does not take gold here.

There is also likely to be intense interest in badminton and table tennis, which have a strong following in the region and boast some top performers, while football and basketball are also expected to be popular events.

There are also some more unusual competitions, such as BMX biking, dancesport — competitive dancing including waltz and tango — and wushu, based on traditional Chinese martial arts.

Although the Games officially begin on Saturday and run until December 13, some events started Wednesday, including football, basketball and table tennis.

At a press conference Wednesday local journalists peppered government officials on the turnout that afternoon at some matches, with players or teams fighting it out in front of rows of empty seats in some cases.

Before competition got underway there had been fears locally that the Games had failed to ignite the interest of the Hong Kong public.    But Vincent Liu, the deputy secretary for home affairs, said he was unconcerned by the poor turnout at some events on the first day.

“I’m sure you are concerned about the attendances but for the preliminary events the attendance rate will not be so high,” he told reporters, adding that from Saturday onwards many of the tickets have been snapped up.

The 2010 Asian Games will take place in Guangzhou in southern China. — AFP

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